A lot can happen in five years.
The Chronicle was once the flagship of the Hearst Newspaper group; the San Francisco Chronicle enjoyed 1.4 million readers on Sunday and 1.2 million on weekdays. But that was five years ago. A lot can happen between nine and five, and a hell of a lot in five years. The Bronstein saga looks like it was 18 years, but most of that was with the much weaker Examiner, while Hearst waited for the JOA to run out.
By Mick Gregory
Michael Savage, the national talk show host based in San Francisco, would shed some light on Phil Bronstien’s poor editorial judgement and left coast, flunky editorial coverage and free political promotion for “friends” on a regular basis. My guess is that some executives with Hearst in New York believed Savage had made some good points. Bronstein’s time at the helm of the good ship Chronicle was a disaster.
Bronstein was a good friend of William R. Hearst III, apparently that was all that mattered. Mr. Bronstein was never as smart or as good a journalist or business manager as he thought he was.
He actually helped ruin The Chronicle by stripping out any competent editors, marketing and advertising executives that he perceived to be smarter. There were scores of them. One I will call BG, did more customer building for Hearst in one year than Bronstein in 18. In fact, Bronstein cost the Hearst Corp millions of dollars in lawsuits and the shady hand-off of the Examiner.
News smarts — Bronstein put on a wetsuit and posed for his photographers looking in a cold SF lake for a 14 inch aligator. What a newsman!
He got a lot more publicity when he was married briefly to Sharon Stone. At least there was some positive publicity for The Chronicle. But that soon went downhill. Remember the Komodo dragon that bit Phil’s toe? The Komodo has a bacteria-infested mouth, a real jounalist would have Googled the details before taking his shoe off and going in the cage with that animal. Bronstein would have to have medical treatments for months and walk in a cast. There were jokes about the condition of the poor Komodo dragon’s mouth having bit the flesh of Bronstein. And one of the meeting rooms was named the Komodo Dragon, not much Phil could do about that.
Right off the bat, Bronstein and then, publisher Tim White, did some “horse trading” with “Da Mayor” Willie Brown on allowing Hearst to pay the Fong family some $60 million to kill off the Examiner, so The Chronicle could have a monopoly in the fifth largest media market. OOPS, someone let the cat out of the bag and White retired to Carmel’s 17-mile Drive with a few million dollars to spare. That money to the Fongs and White could have come in handy in the next couple of years.
An analysis of four months of The San Francisco Examiner’s editorial pages shows the paper became more positive toward Mayor Willie Brown after its publisher offered the mayor more favorable coverage on August 30.
But the Examiner editorials did not give the mayor a free ride after its publisher, Tim White, offered Brown a more positive slant in exchange for the mayor’s support of the sale of the Chronicle to the Hearst Corporation.
For the readers of the Chronicle and Examiner the journalistic ethics of Bronstein and White were exposed for all to see thanks to an anti-trust suit brought by Clint Reilly.
The Grade the News Web site analyzed all Examiner editorials, editorial cartoons and columns on the editorial pages for two months before and two months after the Aug. 30 offer.
Editorials (including snippets from prior opinions reprinted in occasional summaries) which mentioned the mayor in a positive light increased from two before Aug. 30 to six after.
Nothing came of it. Reilly proved his point and Bronstein was preserved by Hearst, again due to William R. Hearst III’s friendship.
Now in total power, Bronstein ruined the Travel advertising category by eliminating special sections that long-time advertisers such as Harrah’s, The Eldorado, The Nugget and several Lake Tahoe resorts invested in. What did he put in its place? The wire copy of generic travel stories from around the globe and photos of campers by Emerald Bay claiming what a fine place Lake Tahoe is for kayaking. What do you think the casino hotel and ski resort executives thought of that?
Next, he actually used advertising profits from retailers in Union Square such as Macy’s, Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma and several hotels to open a “Chronicle Cooking School” at the Embarcadero. Then he used his free newspaper space to promote it. He was promoting the Ebarcadero as the new shopping area of San Francisco. What do you think the advertising executives responsible for building traffic to Union Square thought about that? They were paying $20,000 a page for advertising day after day in The Chronicle for years.
But wait, there is more! The Chronicle before Bronstein was actually helpful in organizing the effort to build a new ballpark. It was a grand success. PacBell Park became a packed house, sometimes called the park that Bonds built. Bronstein, soon after decided to go after Barry Bonds and BALCO. For a couple of years you could count on a daily story of some anonymous leaks of grand jury testimony enhanced with speculation to tear down Barry Bonds.
Today, we learn that hundreds of baseball players have used steroids. And there is in fact no proof that Bonds did. What was that all about?
Politics, The Chronicle actually endorsed the corrupt Democrat Gray Davis over Arnold Schwartzenhager and all throughout the recall election, posted poll results that showed the recall failing. In fact, right up to election day!
On Nancy Pelosi, no stories about her non-union restaurants, hotel and vineyards. And her union political donations. Now that’s journalism!
Do you remember that Bronstein fired an old photographer because he was protesting the war in Iraq and shouldn’t have taken on a political cause? But then, just months later, Bronstein hires Sean Penn to report on his disdain for the war?
Did you know that Bronstein also gave his approval to a string of left wing icons such as Larry Flynt to speak to the Chronicle staff about “freedom of speech?”
But that’s not all. Bronstein cut the targeted news and advertising zoning in Contra Costa County and let the years of investment in the fastest growing suburbs of California go for nothing. The CC Times was soon fat and happy again, actually making more profit than The Chronicle with its replating of several East Bay newspapers and now the San Jose Mercury News. Their combined daily and Sunday readership is substantially higher than the Chronicle’s now.
That’s a sign of a savvy media baron, isn’t it?
Thumbs up go to Michael Savage for helping put an end to Bronstein’s reign of stupidity.
If Hearst executives did a detailed study of Bronstein’s management decisions, they could link a dramatic loss of readership, circulation and advertising to his tenure. Maybe they did just that.